The Children's Hour

by Lillian Hellman

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What do the characters in The Children's Hour represent?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The characters represent different types of real-life people.

  • Mary represents the same type of character that Abigail Williams does in Arthur's Miller's play The Crucible, a girl who also initiates mass hysteria based upon false premises. Like many in real life, she is gratuitously malicious, seeking to harm another person solely because she does not have things the way she wants. Mary represents the selfish, spoiled child who wishes to malign those who do not permit her willfulness. She is the type of person who destroys others to make herself feel important.
  • The two headmistresses are more independent than many women of their day as they venture into business on their own; their behavior is outside the norm, so suspicions about them in other areas are easily given credibility. 
    • Karen Wright, one of the headmistresses, is a strong and sensitive person; her friend Martha is drawn to her, but Karen does not detect any abnormality to their friendship. She is shocked by Martha's suicide and loses much of her enthusiasm for life, sinking into a stoicism that makes her melancholic and listless at the end. Karen Wright is an independent and intelligent woman, one whom others envy and wish to destroy. She is also perceptive, understanding what pure evil is. She explains what has happened to Martha:

KAREN It all fits so well now. That girl has hated us for a long time. We never knew why. We didn't find out. There didn't seem to be any reason....The wicked very young. The wicked very old.

  • Martha Dobbie is weaker than Karen and looks to her friend for support. Because she fears the loss of Karen as a confidante after she marries, Martha begins to doubt her own sexual feelings; thus shamed by thinking she may truly be a lesbian, Martha commits suicide. Martha Dobbie is an intelligent woman, but she lacks confidence in herself and needs others to encourage and protect her. Without others, she doubts herself so much that she takes her own life because of shame.
  • Lily Mortar, the aunt of Martha Dobbie, is a shallow and vain woman. She acts upon her whims, redecorating without approval the school while the headmistresses are gone. Furthermore, she is a self-serving woman, who fails to appear to testify on behalf of Martha and Karen when they desperately need her. Lily Mortar represents the capricious, weak, and foolish person who indulges herself and who has no integrity. She lacks so much character that she does not come to the aid of her own niece.
  • Mrs. Amelia Tilford represents the doting grandmother. She blinds herself to the faults of her granddaughter, and gives her credibility without investigation.

All in all, these characters represent the types of people that are found in society, many of whom are petty and therefore cause strife.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial